This is what the future holds for Android TV

NVIDIA Shield Android TV interface
NVIDIA Shield Android TV interface (Image credit: Android Central)

When you think of smart TV platforms, what comes to mind? If you're like most people, you probably conjure up images of Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV. These four platforms have proven to be the top dogs for consuming media on the big screen, and despite Android being the world's most used mobile operating system, it's still failed to attract a similar audience when it comes to televisions.

Google's first big bet on Android TV came with the Nexus Player in 2014 following the disaster that was the Nexus Q, but that also happened to be its last. Companies like NVIDIA, Xiaomi, and Sony have tried keeping the platform alive through their own set-top boxes and TV sets, but the lack of commitment from Google over the past couple years has put a damper on the platform as a whole.

In addition to the numerous Sony televisions that use Android TV as its smart TV platform of choice, CES 2018 also saw new partnerships with Westinghouse, Hisense, Philips, and NVIDIA. Third-party brands are still using Google's smart television interface, but the fact that the OS still exists doesn't necessarily mean that it's succeeding.

Android TV is in a pitiful state at this point in 2018, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's dead. Google's got a lot of work to do to catch up with the lead Roku, Amazon, and Apple have gained, but this feat is still achievable.

We may see a rebrand similar to Wear OS

This past March, Google came out of left field rebranding Android Wear as Wear OS. The operating system is still the same, but the Android Wear logo and branding are dead in favor of the Wear OS ones. We haven't heard any plans regarding an Android TV rebrand, but I certainly wouldn't count it out.

Television OS would exist nicely with Wear OS and Chrome OS.

Not only does Wear OS help Google push more and more away from the Android branding it seems so keen on killing, it also helps to create a cohesive naming scheme for Google's various operating systems. Now that we have Chrome OS and Wear OS, it's not crazy to think that we may eventually see a Television OS or something else along those lines.

Android TV's name certainly isn't its only pitfall, but it's a small change that would help Google appeal to a broader audience. Instead of the Nexus Player running Android TV, what if we got the Pixel Player running Television OS?

Copy the Chromecast model

Although Google's yet to see any real success with Android TV, the exact opposite can be said for Chromecast. First introduced in 2013, the Chromecast hs remained as one of the most affordable and popular options for easily bringing Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, and more onto your TV.

Chromecast Ultra

Chromecast Ultra

There's no denying that Chromecast is an excellent platform, but why has it succeeded when Android TV's failed?

  1. Chromecast is far cheaper ($35 for the regular model and $69 for the 4K HDR variant)
  2. App developers simply have to add Chromecast functionality to existing mobile apps rather than building new ones for Android TV
  3. The dongle form factor is more discrete than a bulky set-top box

Google's nearly perfected the formula at this point, and despite the two models nearing three and two years old later in 2018, they're still the easiest options to recommend for people that want to add affordable smarts to their existing television.

In my opinion, Google needs to market Android TV as an extension of Chromecast. For people that want the Chromecast experience in addition to a physical remote and user interface they can interact with on the big screen, Google should release something with a similar form factor that runs the Android TV operating system, allows users to cast their content, comes with a remote, and still sells at a competitive price (maybe around $100 or so).

What's going on with that mystery dongle?

With that said, it looks like we may actually see something along those lines before the year is over. A Chromecast-like dongle running Android TV recently passed through the FCC, and it did so with a giant Google "G" logo plastered on its front.

The dongle supports 4K playback, has the same processing power as the newest Amazon Fire TV (opens in new tab), and its remote features a dedicated button for prompting the Google Assistant.

As exciting as this all sounds, there's still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the gadget. Right off the bat, the hardware itself is undeniably cheap-looking. The power adapter and USB cable look like something you'd buy at your local dollar store, and the "G" logo almost looks too in-your-face.

The remote appears to be made with more thought, but there's an uncanny resemblance to the one that comes with the Xiaomi Mi Box.

All of this could easily lead to the conclusion that this is just some knock-off product pretending to be made by Google, but the plot quickly thickens. Shortly after the spotlight was shown on the dongle, almost all of the images found in the FCC listing were removed and placed under a Short-Term Confidential label until October 8, 2018. For what it's worth, Google held events on October 4, 2016, and October 4, 2017, to announce its new Pixel hardware for the respective years.

I have a hard time believing that the hardware shown in the FCC listing is something Google would sell to consumers, but it could very well be meant for developers similar to the ADT-1 that was released as part of Android TV's original development kit in 2014.

Announcements could be coming soon

At the time of publication, Google I/O is a little more than two weeks away. Last year's conference saw the unveiling of a new interface for Android TV as part of the Oreo update, but thanks to lacking developer support, not much ever came of this. One of Android TV's big new features with Oreo are custom "channels" that show recommended content based on what you're watching in that particular app, but as NVIDIA explained in late January, "if you release a whole new interface, and the apps aren't supporting it, then we don't feel like it's a good launch for us."

With the recently revived interest in Android Wear (er, Wear OS – still trying to get used to that) and this dongle popping up, I wouldn't be surprised if Google takes time throughout the event to talk about Android TV in some fashion – whether it has to do with a new name for the platform, an early look at upcoming hardware, or yet another visual refresh.

Whatever happens, what direction would you like to see Google take with Android TV this year? Sound off in the comments below!

I'd rather have excellent software over flashy hardware

Joe Maring

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.

  • I want to use android tv. But it just doesn't have the apps.
  • Just out of curiosity, what apps you know are missing?
  • NHL.TV, History Channel, Destination America. Put the shield right back in the box and sent it back to Amazon.
  • Man get GearsTv.
  • What are you missing?
  • Direct TV NOW. No app for android TV. Have to use a browser and they only support chrome or safari.
  • Or Philo. They recently announced to support Amazon and Apple TV, but not Android TV..:(
  • Roku has hundreds more apps than Android TV. I really want to use my shield tv, but I keep coming back to the Roku because of it's immense content.
  • Love my Nvidia Shield. Hope Nvidia keeps it up to date like it has. It doesn't really need anything to be honest. Not sure what else they would need to add to make it better.
  • Love my shield and I've had it 2.5 years. Missing a few apps but can usually cast them from my phone.
  • Nvidia Shield plus GearsTv for the win.
  • In Canada, the reason it's not popular is easy: Availability. Good luck finding an Android TV device in a brick and mortar store except the Shield, which itself can be hard to find.
  • Why do Canadian's think they matter?
  • Maybe because Americans can't manage a damn thing without going to war or bombing someone?
  • I love it, just a shame our UK government have to follow them like puppy dogs, it is about time we stopped following the U.S and tell them to fight their own invasions.
  • Internationally, that question is asked by every nation about Americans.
  • Why does the US matter? For starters, 3rd largest country in the world, 4 largest population, and biggest economy. I know the Canada remark was a joke, but I'm sure the US remark wasn't.
  • I bought my Shield from NCIX (RIP).
    In Canada, the problem is the apps; there are none. Not a single IP TV service, no cable TV provider nor a mere TV station/network. No Hulu, PS Vue, YouTube TV, Movies Anywhere, no Dish, no Sling; no nothing. All you get is Netflix, Amazon Video and the Play Store. Wouhou.
  • The app situation is not great on anything shy of Roku or Apple TV. Amazon is meh and so is Android TV. I also think the average user probably doesn't use that many apps on the TV. Let's not forget more expensive products like Xbox and PS4 also doing the same things and taking from the market. Also personally hate the Fire TV interface. It works, but bleh
  • Chromecast is flaky and using a phone with it at all times get annoying. Pretty much every other streaming box is less hassle.
  • Chromecast is great for what it does.. but you are right its not a replacement for a FireTV.
    I'd like to see an android tv dongle
  • Yup. I'd much rather use an Android TV than a Chromecast.
  • Nah, not flaky, while I do not use the video one that much, I do use the Chromecast audio a lot and it is great.
  • Unfortunately, the issue with Android TV came up previously with Android tablets and to some extend - Android Wear. In the Tablets case, Google didn't really work hard to make a good OS. They let people run phone apps so developers didn't try to work harder to make Tablet only apps (something that Apple would never allowed, btw), so the consumer experience was really bad and so Android Tablet is pretty much dead. Android TV is worse! the hardware specs is just like a low end phone from 2013! low end CPU, 2GB RAM, 8GB storage, no expansions, and since Android TV comes bundled with many apps (like TV, STB, etc) - the experience to the end user is horrible - slowness, jerkiness, really bad support for 4K in the GUI - no wonder that user don't want it and you can see it in sales. NVidia took the Android TV, upgraded the hardware, memory and storage - and the OS works remarkably well, that's what happens when a company is actually investing in the OS!
  • You describe Android TV as some sort of hardware device. Do you mean to refer to the minimum hardware requirements of ATV? I agree that ATV on HW less capable than the Nvidia Shield is not a good experience.
    ATV (a modified version of the Android OS) is controlled by Google giving Nvidia very little they can do with it. Nvidia could develop SW, but they are a HW company mostly. They chose not to develop SW (or good SW), so apps like Kodi make up for a lot of ATV's shortcomings. (file explorer, network file access, sound format conversions, auto resolution switching, ect.)
    "Google needs to market Android TV as an extension of Chromecast."
    They already do, as most, if not all, ATV devices have Chromecast built-in allowing me to use the device exactly the same as a chromecast device.
  • I know people love the Chromecast, including me, but it is a horrible experience for a family who has cut the cord. My daughter doesn't need a phone, but I am happy to let her control the remote for the TV. To keep things simple, I also want a single box for all of my streaming needs. What can I use that gives me access to all of my Play Store services (Play Movie Rentals, Music), Streaming Cable(Playstation Vue, Sling, YouTubeTV), Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix? I have some iTunes content too, but I mostly consider that inaccessible (MoviesAnywhere fixes most of that). That leaves me with a Roku or an nVidia Shield. I went the nVidia Shield route for the opportunity to play some games, but the Roku Ultra would be my second choice. Joe's opinion that there needs to be a $100 AndroidTV solution is, in my opinion, right on the money. The price of the nVidia Shield makes it so many folks cannot or will not afford it. I also don't get the App Gap. What streaming services don't provide an AndroidTV app?
  • I also don't get the App Gap. What streaming services don't provide an AndroidTV app? Hulu Live, Directv Now, Smithsonian Channel, Syfy Channel, NBC Sports... need I go on because I can? Heck I even read an article the other day how google was adding new features to Youtube TV and they would initially be available only on Apple TV. Seriously?
  • There's the $70 Android TV option in the MiBox which you can pick up at your local Walmart. I have one and I love it. Love the Chromecast Capabilities. Most apps are available or can be side-loaded without too much difficulty. The only app I am longing for is a Native YouTube TV app (which is supported in the Shield) - I have it side-loaded but I need to use a mouse with it. I also have Prime Video side-loaded which works flawlessly. Plex is also a great workaround for some apps.
  • We just getting started with Android TV. A lot more on the way.
  • Chromecast is not a replacement for a TV box, the experience just isn't there. It has its issues but I like my nvidia shield a lot. I'm not sure which apps are people actually missing but I'm pretty happy with the app selection. The main two issues for me are: 1) Google doesn't seem to be interested in improving the OS by fixing the issues that are out of nvidia and other maunfacturers control. Shield has a color space auto switching problem because it requires OS support. 2) There just isn't anywhere near enough Android TV devices around. You have the Mi Box which is priced well but is stuck on an older version of the OS and does have some issues. And then you have the Shield which is overkill for most people and too expensive as well. At least Android TV smart TVs are getting more popular and although the main idea is good (manufactures being able to tweak the OS and fix some issues and limitations), pretty much all of them are underpowered and make the OS look bad.
  • Have you looked at the AirTV Player (new version with TV tuners later in the year), or the Channel Master Stream+?
  • Isn't the Channel Master Stream+ garbage?
  • The CM Stream+ was just released. They are updating it to make it better, just like every other device released these days. Wasn't the Shield TV 'garbage' when released until a few FW updates later? The competition is strong for ATV, and that's a benefit to the consumer. ATV and it's video streaming abilities are a perfect match to be integrated with OTA video broadcasts. That's something I'm not sure Nvidia gets as well as it's competitors, but Google gets it by licensing ATV on TVs and OTA DVRs like the Stream+ and AirTV Player.
  • I disagree with this. I can understand that some people just can't get past having a remote, but my family has used nothing but Chromecast for years. Our kids have no need of remotes and casting content feels plenty natural. It is a different interface, but certainly a viable one.
  • The Nvidia shield TV is a brilliant device. Google needs produce something affordable with close to the same specs. At this point 4k and hdr is a must. Jam it in a dongle that comes with a remote and make it affordable.
  • And Google needs to work with Developers to build their app for ATV.
  • I use my Nexus Player heavily everyday, including all my MLB viewing. But as noted, it's rather long in the tooth and getting flakier by the week. Still hoping for an encouraging word out of I/O; short of that, I guess I'll just have to pony up nVidea Shield money. If I were a gamer, I'd already own one...
  • I've been using a Nexus player for years. For what it is it's fine. Two things though, one it's in desperate need of new hardware. Second, the new ui has to go. Previously it was a big lean back experience. Now it's all small icons broken up in patterns with apps I don't use. Let's see what comes next.
  • Android TV should be re-branded. Can't be TV OS though...
  • If they want to ditch the Android TV, how about looking at the success of chromecast, and call it Cast OS or maybe Home OS and bundle in a device or the next gen google home with hdmi output so it can be directly connected to your TV. Like J Shopping said, if devices become more common place, (I've actually never seen an Nvidia shield in stores) and more options, dongles, set-top boxes, gaming centric devices. better game support Or how about a Google Home, which has HDMI pass through, for cloud recording or controlling your PVR set-top box "Hey Google Record the latest episode of Coronation Street"
    "Hey Google Lets Watch last nights football highlights"
  • Isn't that the same thing as Google Assistant on the Shield TV?
  • I really like my 2 Sony Android Smart TV's. Sony has done a really good job of updating the OS. Both are on 7.0. The Apps are a bit boring ( how many freaking weather apps can you use) but i do find lots of good content that I watch. I still use Direct TV but am moving in the direction of cutting the cable. Aside from regular Direct TV I mostly use it for Netflix and Amazon Prime. I do watch a lot of YouTube and NHK. I do hope they upgrade the apps and add some features like internet browsing. I know you can use the internet but I find it kind of clumsy and slow. A keyboard would also be helpful.
  • I don't understand the whole remote situation. These days, why would I ever want a remote, when everything I want to watch is on my phone? That's why the Chromecast is so appealing, because it's not like another TV box, it let's you stream everything you would ever want to watch to your TV. I want my TV to be an extension of what I'm consuming on my phone, not another device that just so happens to have the same streaming service.
  • Do you have a family of three trying to decide what to watch while you are searching your phone but they can't see the options? Have you ever tried to grab your phone in the dark, unlock it, get to the app (if it hasn't lost connection) and then use that little slider bar to move 2 minutes ahead to skip commercials? Trust me you'd want a remote with a skip button. Have you ever had anyone call you while you were watching a show and you can't pause it because the dialer is covering the screen on your phone? Have you ever had the guys over watching a football game and they want to do a replay? And you say just a second let me find my phone (see a couple above about trying to use the slider bar to go back 15 seconds in a 4 hour game). And finally have you ever had your wife ask you how the hell do I just watch tv? Trust me when I tell you that you do NOT want to answer that she has to use her phone.
  • Well said. Sure, casting technology is great, but so far cell phones are not even close to being usable as TV remotes, no matter how cool or trendy it is to do so.
  • I miss my Logitech Revue. It's too bad the firmware updates broke it. It had Flash on it, so it worked to browse TV websites to play their TV shows, before the paywall existed. But a firmware update added a caching bug for Flash and permanently broke the device. It was slow, but it felt natural to use. Having widgets pop up over the TV feed.
  • What about YoutubeTV? I've been using it for awhile...runs natively on smart TVs, runs fully on phone/tablet and can be thrown to a Chromecast.
  • I love Android TV. Works great.
  • Nvidia shieldTV could be so great but the support is absolutely absymal.
  • I love my chromecasts, but point blank, they need a well specced box with a good remote to facilitate use by the entire family.
  • There definitely needs to be cheaper hardware from the source, I love my Shield but I just couldn't justify a second one. I don't understand the alleged app disparity though; maybe it's missing a few niche apps, but the other platforms don't have the combination of features that ATV does. As for the new name, it would follow the same logic for the Googs to call it Watch OS... if only Apple hadn't wasted the copyright.
  • I hated Fire OS due to its Amazon-centric interface and I dumped Roku after ten years because Rokus lacked the power to play nicely with Youtube and Kodi. I'm running Shield TVs and while I wish it had a few more apps it I'm very satisfied with its performance and interface. On the other hand, as long as you aren't planning to use it as a gaming machine it really is a bit of overkill. What the OS needs isn't another slow wifi only dongle hanging behind a TV where wifi reception really sucks, there are lots of $80-100 Android smartphone-OS/Kodi boxes with plenty of power to run Android TV that would make darned good Android TV/Kodi boxes if the manufacturers would just put Android TV on them. The smartphone OS just sucks for TV use. All that I can figure out is that Android TV must cost the manufacturers more or be harder to implement.
  • Nvidia Shield TV FTW!! I barely turn on my Nexus Player.
  • Chromecast isn't great. Have to reboot my phone everytime I want to screen mirror to it. Why did Google disable Miracast? Why isn't there a Blu-ray player with Chromecast? But I agree, they need to merge Chromecast and Android TV, and give Chromecast a remote.
  • I'm surprised you guys don't realize that Android TV is actually alive and very well. It is powering the majority of the pay-TV industry's new set top boxes that will be debuting or are in development from this point forward. 60 pay TV deployments by this fall and growing quickly. Including DirecTV and DirecTV Now's new boxes. As for those talking about apps , ATV has over 3000 at this point. Google is probably not too concerned with consumer penetration since they are making large inroads in the service provider market. If anyone here goes to tradeshows like IBC and NAB, then you already know. The release of Operator Tier for Android TV opened up the floodgates. If you look past the consumer market, ATV is the furthest thing from being on life support or limping along. Article for example:
  • Hi. Question, where do you find over 3000 apps? When I open Google Play Store on my Sony TV, there is only a handful of apps? Where else can I see these? Thanks
  • I have the shield.. Powerfull bacteria for me severely lacking.. I would still like to read media on my big TV no apps and the few you can sidelined don't work well. Also the YouTube quality is great but give the option to see and join in the comments.... That's dumb... Yes I could cast my phone but why I shouldn't need to.
  • I currently have a Hisense 1080 TV and when I go 4k I'll go for LG. I think for me Google is all over my life and I don't want it on a TV where I'm forced to log in. WebOS actually is better than all TV OSs I've seen, from quality of it's UI design to the apps. Android was just meant for phones maybe that's why it doesn't see much success on the TV side. To think a lot of media boxes released even today use Android 6. I did see a lot of improvements on V8 but I haven't seen a media box that runs it.
  • I find that I'm using WebOS more often than I thought I would but mainly because my LG supports Atmos. I'm just concerned that LG might not bother keeping WebOS and WebOS apps on existing TVs updated. Lack of updates is the history of smart features in TVs and Blu-Ray players in a nutshell. The version of Android found on the vast majority of media boxes is the phone/tablet version - NOT Android TV. The interface is completely different as are the apps. Android TV and Android TV apps are optimised for a very simple remote control and do not require a mouse, air mouse, or touch screen.
  • i have never seen Android TV, I have seen TV sets in a store that have Android built in. Is that what they call Android TV? I have an old Plasma TV with no smart functions and to be honest I have no interest in a TV with smart functions.
  • Right now the best implementation of Android TV is in the NVIDIA ShieldTV set-top box.
  • Amdroid is the best echo system whether tv wise or hand helds. You can download anything. I dont know why devs are not taking it seriously but i stick to it
  • I use the Shield TV 2017 model. Great device for streaming and I also use Google's Live Channels app for OTA. I also subscribe to DirecTV Now, which currently does not have an Android TV app. This is a huge shortcoming which needs to be addressed by AT&T. I can cast the DirecTV Now Android app from my phone to my TV, which works fine but is not a very elegant solution for live TV viewing. For now, I use a AppleTV4 with the DirecTV Now app. This works very well but I would prefer to have all my apps on one streaming device in the future. Hopefully AT&T will eventually support an Android TV app for DirecTV Now, but they have stated many times that nothing is currently in development.
  • The issue I have with this is that FireTV (android based) already has an app. There is also an android (phone and tablet) app and an app for the Shield (which is Android TV!!!?!). Wake up AT&T! Spend the hour to fix this.
  • The thing that all these devices are missing is HDMI pass thru. Back when the Logitech Revue was around, I loved the idea of being able to bring up the device without needing to change inputs (this adds to the WAF and KAF). I know I can easily switch between inputs, but why should I need to. I have a couple of Android/Google TV built ins as well as several other Android/Google TV devices (plus Chromecasts), but short of the TVs with Android/Google TV built in, nothing feels as good as the old Revue with pass through HDMI for simplicity.
  • You mean a GoogleTV device? The HDMI input was to input video from a cable TV box to allow integration of cable TV with online streaming. Now that cable boxes (and costs) are shunned and OTA video becomes more popular, the TV tuner is the input to be integrated. Are you still a cable TV user?
  • I finally listened to the podcast and what a waste of time. All that it proved is how woefully out of touch with everyday Americans AndroidCentral really is. Newsflash - the entire country is not made up of 20 something bay area tech-nerds. Unlike you, most married couples do not watch TV at home on tablets, much less separate tablets. Tablet sales are way down simply because almost nobody uses them anymore. Few people over 30 want to be casting to their TV, phones are just too small and battery limited for anyone other than the most hard core techies to bother using for more than infrequent video selection. Chromecast is barely a thing anymore simply because normal non-techies people don't want to be bothered. NVIDIA's Shield TV is fantastic but is way too limited by the number of Android TV audio and video channel/apps in the Google app store. Where I see the future of Android TV going is as the smarts built into more and more TVs and Blu-Ray players and on lower cost Android set top boxes. Dongles aren't going to fly, instead it's going to come down to a contest between TV manufacturers using either Roku, Android TV, or LG's excellent WebOS as their built in smarts/media players. In the future dongles and set-top boxes will be reserved for those with old TVs and and Kodi fanatics.